Nothing Is Simple
I am definitely not one to mourn for the good old days, nor do I think they can or should return. I do not believe my generation was smarter or better or superior to those that have followed me.
Being a grandfather has brought into focus how complex life is in America, for better or worse, how shaped by lawyers, law suits, government regulations, fears, phobias, rumors, hysteria.
And most especially, by corporate institutions that seem to want to cover their asses and make money more than serve people well.
I suppose Robin is safer than Emma was when she was a baby, because there are a million new regulations, alarms, cautions and hysterias surrounding the life of the baby. And then, there are nor mailing lists and social media, the best pathways for spreading alarm and misinformation the world has ever seen.
Life is very different for Robin than it was for Emma, or for me.
No toys of any kind are permitted in Robin's crib at night when she sleeps, per order of the pediatrician who warns of suffocation. Robin is not ever permitted to sleep on her stomach, nor is she covered with blankets. Both things are now considered dangerous.
She must, of course, travel in a car seat, although I was startled to get this enormous box in the mail, the seat is not all that different from the one an astronaut might strap him or herself into.
It is a major piece of hardware, and I am grateful I bought one so that Emma doesn't have to haul it with her from New York City.
The crib (and car seat and high chair) we ordered is festooned with caution and warning labels, a visitor from Mars would never let his baby into any crib given all the possible dangers listed on the package and in the stickers.
Interactions with strangers are closely monitored and discouraged.
When I took Robin out for a walk in New York City, I was surrounded by mothers and grandmothers from every corner of the earth who wanted to touch and hold her. How nice, I thought, this is how we socialize puppies, it must be equally important for babies. I passed her around.
It is not like it is for puppies.
A young mother took me aside in Brooklyn and said she could see that I was proud of Robin, but that I must never let anyone I didn't know touch her or hold her. She was grave. She had heard a number of stories of babies snatched from their mothers arms and kidnapped right off of the street.
"We teach our kids that strangers are scary," she said. I didn't even want to mention this episode to my daughter, who finally relented and let me take the baby out for a walk by myself. I did think the experience said to me that we teach children of all ages to fear and avoid strangers, a very fraught lesson to then take into life.
I've been buying supplies for Robin's visit in a few weeks, and reading the reviews on Amazon about cribs, high chairs, toys and car seats. The fear and hysteria and blatant paranoia in these reviews is breathtaking, endless warnings about chemicals in mattresses, radioactive beams from baby monitors (very few babies in America will ever grasp or Intuit the idea of privacy.)
The absence of a monitor is considered almost criminal neglect, the camera and audio must be turned on all night while they sleep, the parents tap into them like addicts on a cell phone all throughout the evening. The monitor I ordered is on the way.)
The horror stories about babies and high chairs alone would leave many parents feeding their babies on the floor in a giant enclosed plastic bubble. I never thought of high chairs as being dangerous, just filthy all of the time. Reading the Amazon reviews, I think it's a miracle any baby survives past six months.
I am exhausted and edgy just from ordering these things, they are so many things to be aware of, and I imagine the writers who write all the warnings to cover their bosses corporate butts are doing well, I have a big pile of danger stickers warning about everything from fire to suffocation to getting caught between mattresses and crib bars to chemical vapors in mattress pads.
Strangers, it seems, are the least of it.
In the baby monitor reviews were a chronicle of mishaps, accidents, rumors, terror and extreme danger. There is no safe and happy world around any baby int the reviews on Amazon, or in any lawyer's office.
I happen to know from my journalism days that the kidnapping of babies (or children) by strangers as opposed to family members, is one of the rarest crimes in American life, the odds are better of having an airplane fall out of the sky on top of them than being snatched by an unknown kidnapper.
Dangers facing babies are very real, so are false rumors, paranoia, misinformation and hysteria.
That most parents and pediatricians don't know that most strangers are not dangerous is the inevitable outcome of a country whose cultural and social life and social communications are so often built on fear and warnings. Fear may be the biggest and most profitable industry in America, it keeps the corporate coffers full and the rest of us perpetually alarmed.
And babies are a driving force in the fear market, loving parents will do almost anything when told their children are not safe. I was wide-eyed at the $300 and $400 and very popular baby monitors that keep an eye on temperature, monitor breathing and pulse, listen for any kind of sound or dreaming.
The ads promise the highest cinematic quality and long range. Some even record the baby's sleeping for future reviewing.
Animals are also the subject of great fear and alarm.
Every time I put up a photo of a dog in a car window, I get messages from everywhere warning me about the dangers of dogs in cars, I know many dog lovers who no longer take their dogs with them anywhere for fear of being targeted by the armies of the anxious and the self-righteous, eager to smash car windows in parking lots to prove their dedication to animals.
One woman I know was hauled off in handcuffs in Saratoga Springs for leaving a dog in a care with the engine running and the AC on for five minutes while she ran into dry cleaner's to pick up her cleaning.
It is good to make the loves of dogs and babies safer. It is madness to criminalize normal life. Soon, nobody will dare to take their dogs anywhere, I hear it all the time. Are dogs really better off for that?
This arrest and handcuffing was the law now, the abashed officers told this woman as her car was towed away and the dog taken to the city pound. Really? The law?
My daughter Emma is sane and well-informed, she is a wonderful mother, and she is careful about what she believes and doesn't believe, although she does pretty much everything the pediatrician suggests, as I did when she was a baby. She is, unlike her father, very sane in all things. But she is ordering diapers herself and mailing to me because she doesn't quite trust to get the right ones.
I don't recall every challenging her pediatrician or asking her to back up anything she ever said, and she said a lot of strange things.
I imagine – I can't say for sure – that babies are safer now than they used to be, protected from blankets and toys and all kinds of food and clothes and dangerous toys and cribs and high chairs, and unbuckled rides and strangers. What parent will look away when warned about the safety of their baby?
I am glad this is Emma's problem and not mine. I'm still recovering from ordering a crib, a high chair, a baby monitor and car seat. My nerves are shot, and I hope it all goes well when Robin comes to visit.
Yet if safety is gained, something else is also lost. If you look around at our culture, full of former babies and kids, there is an epidemic of phobia, fear and anger and so many people in our society seems to have lost the ability to talk to one another, everyone is a stranger to be feared or despised.
If you think it about, that really isn't all that surprising. Fear is the revolutionary idea behind baby care.
If we are in fact safer now, I can't say I am convinced we are better off than we were, or that our babies and grandbabies are really healthier.